The Presidency on Thursday faulted the sources of information on which members of the House of Lords, the United Kingdom, based their recent letter on the killings in Nigeria.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, stated this in a statement in Abuja titled, ‘British lawmakers, legal experts and campaigners should work with President Buhari, not fall for propaganda.’
The British lawmakers had, in a letter to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, dated September 14, and co-signed by Baroness Cox, Baroness Kennedy, Jim Shannon, Fiona Bruce, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams and 14 others, asked the Commonwealth to conduct an impartial investigation into the killings in Nigeria and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The parliamentarians expressed indignation over the killings by Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East and Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt region and said the failure of the Federal Government to protect Nigerians was a breach of the Commonwealth charter.
They, therefore, requested the Commonwealth to raise the killings with the Ministerial Action Group.
But Shehu in his statement noted that not all those who provided the information that served as the basis of the letter were committed to democracy or the nation’s peaceful co-existence.
He said, “At the same time as we take note of the lawmakers’ letter, it is also important to stress to our partners and colleagues in the United Kingdom that not all who press them have the best interests of either democratic governance or peaceful coexistence in mind.
“For example, the former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff named and quoted in the letter as a source on military matters, relinquished that position some 40 years ago – in 1979.
“He was last in a government position 17 years ago in 2003 (as Minister of Defence). At that time, religious and ethnic riots erupted in two states of the federation, (2001 and 2002). These were violently and ruthlessly put down by the military under his authority, leading to the loss of thousands of lives and the displacement of some further 50,000 persons.
“He is, therefore, not a natural source of pressure for good governance.”
The presidential aide continued, “Another, signatory to the letter, is well-known to be associated with the Indigenous People of Biafra, a Nigerian-blacklisted terrorist group.
“The IPOB are running a well-known (source-of-financing-unknown) international campaign intended to damage the reputation of Nigeria and its government in order to further their cause of ‘independence.’ He jumped bail in Nigeria. He frequently travels on a Nigerian passport but urged his supporters to burn their passports!
“The IPOB barely mention their aims in their publicity; neither do they mention that their own leadership does not claim to be Christian. Yet, their media and lobbying campaign have focused near-exclusively on promoting matters related to Christianity in Nigeria, promulgating false claims that a government with 50 per cent of its cabinet and 50 per cent of its state governors who are Christian somehow works against Christians.
“We call on our British friends and colleagues to join us in addressing genuine solutions not pander to agents of anarchy.”
Shehu, however, said the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the Federal Government welcomed the seriousness of the letter and the attention paid to it by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.
He expressed the government’s readiness to work with the lawmakers, the Commonwealth and all concerned parties to bring a lasting solution to herder-farmer clashes, and the threat posed to all Nigerians – and the Sahel region as a whole – from Boko Haram terrorists and their allies.
He added, “We ask our British colleagues to visit Nigeria, whether formally or informally to discuss all the points raised in their letter.
“Our government is made equally of Christian and Muslim cabinet members. Our Vice President is an evangelical pastor. We have everything to gain as a country through international cooperation with concerned, senior British parliamentarians and policymakers.
“The threat to civilians and peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious groups from Boko Haram, banditry and land disputes is of serious concern to the President and the government. It is incorrect, however, to assert that the government has or is doing nothing to address these intertwined threats.”
He said there were ongoing efforts for the establishment of cattle ranches to prevent or curtail open grazing, the practice which he said brought herders and farmers into conflict.
He described the problem as an age-long one facing Nigerian governments since the colonial days.
Shehu also explained that matters of land distribution were dealt with at state level.
“This means willingness has to be shown by state governors to drive the process forward. The Federal Government launched a plan last year to work with states to address these issues – together. Unfortunately, this has been lacking in some states.
“When the government came to power, the terrorist group held and administered an area the size of Belgium. Now they hold none. The terrorists are hiding out amongst remote forests and across borders.
“This makes it difficult to extinguish the final flames of the insurgency, and the government has no illusions of the potent threat still posed. However, the progress made cannot be denied.
“Thirdly, in the face of rising crime and insecurity, the government’s new community policing initiative was launched this month. 10,000 new constables are being recruited from the areas they will safeguard – as opposed to past practice.
“The government hopes this will bring policing closer to local communities. N13bn has been earmarked for this initiative.”
In his reaction, the Vice-Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, 19 northern states and Abuja, Rev Joseph Hayab, in an interview said the British lawmakers’ letter was a wake-up call on the Federal Government.
He said, “CAN therefore welcomes the move by UK lawmakers and hope it will be a wake-up call on our leaders to do what is expected of them constitutionally.”
Berating the presidential aide, Hayab said Government may be trying in some cases but his poor presentation about the killings and evil done by bandits always makes victims and relations of victims see the government as uncaring.”
Faulting the Presidency, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union said it would welcome the British lawmakers to the southern part of Kaduna State to see the genocide being perpetrated by suspected Fulani herdsmen against their hosts.
The SOKAPU told UK lawmakers that 109 communities in four local government areas of Southern Kaduna had been captured and were being occupied by Fulani militia.
The group spokesman, Mr Luka Binniyat, in an interview on Thursday, said, “So far, we have over 80,000 internally displaced persons living under sub-human conditions in southern Kaduna.
“While the insurgency carried out by Boko Haram in the North- East is well reported by the international media, the genocide carried out by Fulani militia against the natives of Southern Kaduna and many parts of the Middle Belt is ignored. Yet, it has been estimated that the Fulani militia may have killed and plundered more Christian communities in the past two years than Boko Haram.
“SOKAPU wants to use this medium to inform the British lawmakers that as at today, 109 communities in four LGAs of Kaduna State have been captured and are occupied by Fulani militias. So far, we have over 80,000 IDPs living under sub-human conditions in southern Kaduna.
“We shall also be very happy to welcome their fact-finding team to Southern Kaduna to verify our case.”
But a Borno State elder, Professor Khalifa Dikwa, told BUSTANEWS that said the British parliamentarians ought to have sent their letter to the African Union or/and Economic Community of West Africa States.
Khalifa, in an interview said that something should be done urgently to prevent a crisis similar to the one in Mali in Nigeria.
The professor noted Western countries kept quiet when the present Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, toppled a democratically elected government of Mohammed Morsi.”
He also advised Western governments to “desist from playing double standards of supporting African civilian dictators when their permanent interests are protected.”
In a related development, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Thursday said the three arms of the Federal Government must take all necessary actions to tackle the security challenges facing Nigeria.
Gbajabiamila decried that the spate of insecurity had disrupted the lives of the people as well as threatened the continued existence of the country.
The Speaker stated this in Abuja while declaring open, a two-day workshop on promoting effective legislation and oversight of the security sector in Nigeria, which was organised by the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation
A statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, titled ‘All Arms of Government Must Work to Address Security Challenges, Gbajabiamila Says’, quoted him to have warned against the dire consequences of allowing the security crises to persist.
He said, “We are at this moment experiencing in many parts of our country, significant internal security challenges that have disrupted the lives of many of our citizens and led to a loss of lives and property at a scale that cannot easily be quantified.
“These internal security challenges threaten the very existence of the Nigerian state because they undermine public faith in the government’s ability to fulfil its fundamental obligation to protect the lives and property of citizens.
“Across the three arms of government, we have a shared responsibility to take all necessary actions to meet these challenges head-on. This is what the people who elected us rightly expect.”
According to Gbajabiamila, national security is generally understood to be the preserve of the executive arm of government. He said as a result, the general public and the political class often do not know what the legislative role in national security is or ought to be.
The Speaker said, “This knowledge gap presents an ongoing limitation on the policy-making and oversight role of the legislature as it pertains specifically to the challenges we face in the national security sector. Workshops such as the one we have gathered here for today are an essential tool in reversing this gap.”
He added, “The realities of the moment require that we be willing to speak honest truths about the things we haven’t gotten right so that we can then focus our energies on making sure that we do better for the future.
I encourage all of you to remember that a lot of the hopes we have for our country depend on our ability to guarantee the safety of our people and the security of property and investments. And from this remembrance, I hope we can find the motivation to do all that this moment requires of us.
“Key followers of the House would notice that security has been a very important part of our work. It’s part of our legislative agenda. When I came in, I visited three key states affected by insecurity. I went to Katsina, Borno and Zamfara.”